by Dick Mac
Tony Visconti is the most talented and famous person you think you've never heard of.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1944, as a teenager became a professional musician in New York City. He moved to England during the British Invasion and landed smack dab in the middle of some of the most exciting and innovative musical happenings in history.
Probably best known for his work with David Bowie, especially as producer of the "Berlin Trilogy," I was first exposed to him as the producer of the T.Rex album "Electric Warrior" (a record that changed my life).
He has produced records for Tyrannosaurus Rex (which became T.Rex), Apple Records artists The Iveys, Mary Hopkin, and Badfinger, David Bowie, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Tom Paxton, Sparks, Argent, Iggy Pop, Thin Lizzy, Rick Wakeman, Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Elaine Page, Difford & Tilbrook, Altered Images, Adam Ant, Modern Romance, The Moody Blues, Prefab Sprout, Kristeen Young, Morrissey, Angelique Kidjo, Alejandro Escovedo, and many, many more.
He also provided orchestral arrangements for Paul McCartney's only listenable LP, "Band On The Run."
He is a bass player and singer in his own right. Recently, he loaned his humble prowess to the creation and production of a live performance aptly titled "The TV Show" and performed at City Winery, in New York City.
His band was a very New York line-up:
Richard Barone (The Bongos), co-producer, guitars, vocals.
Gerry Leonard (Spooky Ghost, Suzanne Vega, David Bowie), guitars.
Dennis Diken (The Smithereens), drums.
Joe McGinty (Loser's Lounge), keyboards.
Peter Hess (Bang On A Can, Slavic Soul Party), sax, flute.
The singers equally amazing:
All the songs to be performed were connected to Tony Visconti as either a producer, singer, writer or musician. I guess that narrowed it down to about 3,000 songs, nineteen of which were promised this night.
City Winery is one of the best venues in New York City. They have a ticketing system that allows you to pick your seat, and as the city's only fully-functioning winery, it offers an impressive wine list and delicious menu.
After a meal of pork belly, guacamole with feta, lobster pasta and hangar steak followed by fresh donuts with ice cream and a cup of coffee, we were ready for a show.
The band took the stage and after a few tunings and remarks from Visconti, the show began:
A New Career In A New Town (Bowie). This instrumental is the opening cut from "Low," perhaps David Bowie's most influential and creative record, and certainly a masterpiece. The original was produced by Visconti in France and was the beginning of the "Berlin Trilogy." They didn't miss a beat that you could discern. All the musicians played with the sound of admiration and awe in each beat, strum, stroke, key, and chord.
The show continued with Rock 'n Roll With Me (Bowie/Peace), from the Diamond Dogs LP. It's a beautiful song and was sung beautifully.
Next, Richard Barone tackled You Have Killed Me (Morrissey), and I liked this version more than the original. I have heard, and heard of, Barone for many years; but I'd never seen him perform. Elvis Presley is a common milestone on which we criticize, compare, and count musicians and singers. In this case, if Elvis Presley had come after David Bowie, he would have danced onstage like Richard Barone. Barone can move his hips while singing, and he moves them well. I have one question for my friends, associates and colleagues: Why didn't you guys tell me that Barone was so friggin' hot?
There is only one Paul McCartney album I can listen to: Band On The Run. It is the only McCartney record that rocks, has a rock n roll sound, has depth, is dynamic the way a rock record should be. I could never figure out why it was so different from all his other records. Well, when McCartney released the 30th Anniversary edition of the album, he gave credit where credit was due and listed Tony Visconti as the orchestral arranger. THAT explains why Band On The Run is so good: Tony Visconti was the arranger! Since this was a pretty famous project and had some pretty big hits, it makes sense that one of those songs would be selected. This night, the lovely Kiah Victoria sang Jet (McCartney/McCartney). Victoria is a striking presence on stage with a big voice, a big smile, big hair, a big presence, major style, and majorly big talent. A student at NYU's Clive Davis School of Music, she is a student (protege?) of Barone's. She belted out Jet like it was no body's business and made it acutely obvious that more women should sing that song. The lyrics are insipidly McCartney-esque, but there is a range to it that Kiah Victoria brought to life.
The third album of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" was "Lodger," perhaps the most under-rated rock album in history. Even people who tell you they love David Bowie seem to know nothing about this influential record. Every rock star and musician knows it, but your average music consumer seems to have missed it. Kiah Victoria, along with the band, sang Boys Keep Swinging (Bowie/Eno) in a strong, solid straight-forward manner. As Visconti pointed out when introducing the song, this is very much a "boy" song; and it was great to hear it sung by a girl.
I had never heard of Nakia. He is a young singer who flew in from Austin, Texas, to perform as part of The TV Show. he took center stage to sing the lead on Young Americans (Bowie). He did a magnificent job, and Peter Hess did not disappoint playing that amazing sax part originated by David Sanborn some forty years ago. See it here: Young Americans, Nakia, The TV Show
Yet Another Midnight (Visconti/Barone). Barone and Visconti are made for each other. If this isn't a professional love fest, then I've never seen one. They complement each other wonderfully, both with a humble yet large stage presence.
How has Larkin Grimm stayed under my radar? What a voice! Visconti told the story of seeing her perform for the first time, and his surprise that she knew about Tyrannosaurus Rex. She sang Dove (Bolan) and the always popular She Was Born To Be My Unicorn (Bolan). She has an unassuming presence when singing backup, but she glows when taking the lead.
Dennis Diken, of The Smithereens, sang Beautiful Daughter (Wood), which is not an easy song to sing. He has an excellent stage presence and a strong voice. I'll bet that after singing it a few more times, it will flow with ease.
In 1974, I watched David Bowie sing Sweet Thing (Bowie) live in concert at the Music Hall in Boston. Since that day I have waited and waited and waited for him to do it again. And I have seen him in concert many, many times. And he has not ever sung it again. It's a really hard song to sing; it was written by Bowie for Bowie. It's not your standard pop hit that gets covered over and over by anyone and everyone. Considering the vocal acrobatics and the lyrical content of the song, it takes a brave and adventurous soul to undertake a live performance. Richard Barone put on his leather gloves, took off his shirt, and showed us his set smells like a street, in a bold, passionate rendition of this homoerotic ride though the demi-monde. He succeeded at bringing the song and its spirit to life -- no easy feat.
I think a very small group of my friends in Boston were the only ones to pay any attention to the movie and soundtrack "Breaking Glass." It was so obscure, even to me, that I had no idea that Visconti was involved. He told great stories about the writing, producing, arranging and recording of of the soundtrack at the same time the movie was being filmed. Tonight's offering from that soundtrack was Will You (O'Connor).
The evening began to peak when everyone sang along with Visconti to Fashion (Bowie) and "Heroes" (Bowie/Eno). You knew the night was coming to an end, but the exuberance was enough to get people singing along. You knew it would be the final songs, but nobody seemed to mind, everything seemed so spontaneous.
Special mention has to be made about the stellar performance of Gerry Leonard on every song. As David Bowie's bandleader, Leonard has become expert in the nuances of glam rock. He was on fire. Invisible most of the show, sitting behind the backup singers, he tore it up.
It is my sincerest wish that Visconti and Barone do The TV Show again. It's even OK with me if it's the exact same line-up of talent and songs.
I failed to discuss two other songs that were performed: Ballrooms Of Mars (Bolan) and Your Wildest Dreams (Hayward). Suffice it to say that both were done with the same aplomb and enthusiasm afforded all the other songs.